The alarm went off, and I drifted, reliving my dreams. Startling awake, I checked the time. I still had an hour to make it to church. Until I looked closely. The secondhand was stuck on the 4, click, click, clicking. After I hurriedly dressed, I ran downstairs where real clocks exist. I had 8 minutes to make it to St. Mary’s.
I was only a bit late, as were others. This service fills up as the liturgy unfolds. By the time Dean Andy asked me to come down front and assist with the chalice, the space was bursting with worshipers.
I hadn’t worked the chalice since I married Tom over 17 years ago. At that ceremony, we offered the communion wine to our wedding guests. This service, I offered the cup to a mix of those living in houses and those living on the street.
Each tip of the cup was different, each person served a new individual who might take the cup in assistance, might stretch their neck in passive need, might gulp or sip or glance up, saying, “I didn’t get any.” What was a congregation becomes relationship, both of us doing the best we can to reach God.
The next impact came courtesy of mammon, that which I wish all could quietly see, which is the passing of the plate. Men and women who have spent the night at the mission dribble their change into the offering. A modern day, weekly reliving of the story of the widow’s mite, every Wednesday at St. Mary’s. It is impossible to witness and not feel convicted of hubris.
But it’s more than that. It’s not just that my charity suffers in comparison to those who dig into their pockets and place crumpled bills into the plate. It’s a reminder of a truth this service taught me long ago: the real living is taking place in a sphere I only intermittently visit. This isn’t a romanticized, rose-colored view of the poor. It’s a Jesus view of the world, where the deepest charity is practiced by those whom we in our blindness judge for taking charity.
After the service, I helped the sandwich-makers make their sandwiches. I learned that a member of the church who came to us through the Wednesday morning service grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, just like me. He lived in Barclay Downs neighborhood, just like me. His brother graduated Myers Park High School, just like me.
I’d considered myself kind for developing a friendship with this man. Giving myself credit, a checkmark in my box, congratulations for doing God’s work, when we were almost the exact same, him and me. He who always remembers my name.
Equal, equal, equal. The service drums God’s truth into my head until I cry “Uncle!” and slink away from my high perch of holiness. Some services teach by preaching. This service offers an opportunity to experience the word of God. For that, I thank the lord and St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral.
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